The Sixers (38-30) started a west coast road trip with a stop in Phoenix to visit the Suns (39-29) on Wednesday. Philadelphia wanted to push its winning streak to three games. Phoenix wanted to rebound from Sunday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Tyrese Maxey went through the motions, the Sixers gave up a million threes, and the west coast road trip started out with a 115-102 defeat.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a procedure to address a meniscus injury in his left knee.

Tobias Harris was out with a sprained right ankle.

De'Anthony Melton has bone stress in his lumbar spine and remained out. As did Robert Covington, who has a bone bruise in his left knee.

Kai Jones has a strained right hamstring and was out. Terq Smith is on a two-way G League assignment with the Delaware Blue Coats and was not available.

Nick Nurse started Kyle Lowry, Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nico Batum, and Mo Bamba.

The Suns were without the services of Damion Lee, who is recovery from surgery on his right meniscus. Josh Okogie is managing a lower abdominal strain and was out.

Frank Vogel started Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Grayson Allen, Kevin Durant, and Jusuf Nurkic.


- Nurse recently remarked that he felt the defensive consistency in Embiid's absence was improving, and that it would be more noticeable to everyone if the team could just cobble together enough points on offense by the end of games. The last few games, especially, have dispelled any eye rolls at that commentary. The Sixers have done an outstanding job of supporting each other at times, making up for what they lack in individual defense with strong synergy as a five-man unit.

When things were going well for Philadelphia in the first quarter, they rotated quite well when the ball moved. They closed out hard, driving the Suns off the three-point line. During Phoenix's frigid start to the game, a lot of their shots were pull-up long twos and misses at the rim. Both are indicators of strong team defense.

With Harris unavailable, Batum took the Durant assignment - a tough task for anyone, let alone a guy in his mid-30s who has dealt with nagging lower body injuries all season. Batum did a lot of face-guarding on Durant, especially when Phoenix set up its halfcourt offense with the star forward at the elbows in Horns actions. When you're face-guarding, the angle you're taking to deny the ball can often leave you vulnerable to backdoor cutting. Durant did eventually use the strategy against Batum with a backdoor burst, but Bamba was there to help turn a potential dunk off the pass into a contested baseline jumper.

That connectivity - and some horrendous shooting for the Suns - was paramount to the Sixers jumping out to an early lead.


- All the good team-oriented stuff the Sixers did on Phoenix's initial plays was basically neutralized by total futility on the defensive glass. Nurkic is an outstanding rebounder, an obvious candidate to give Philadelphia fits on the glass. His slap-outs hurt the Sixers, but Philadelphia just could not get hands on the basketball coming off the rim.

It felt like the hand-eye coordination simply was not there. There were countless instances in which the ball actually hit a Sixer on its way down off the rim, only to then fall all the way to the floor or ricochet into the Suns' hands. In that sense, I don't even know that I would say the Sixers got crushed by physicality. It was more a general lack of focus and some bad luck with where the ball landed coming off the rim. The Sixers forced enough misses on the initial plays, but they did themselves no favors when it came to ending Phoenix's possessions after those misses.

- Players billed as snipers are inherently streaky, but I'm starting to get a little worried about Buddy Hield. Believe me, I get that he will get a ton of open threes when Embiid returns. But, he's also getting - and missing - his fair share of open threes now. Some of the misses aren't even close. And it seems like he's pressing a bit because he's turning good looks off the catch into contested threes by defaulting to this one-dribble side-step move every time the ball swings his way. Don't think, just let it fly.

- This was Maxey's worst game in a long time, maybe all season. The Suns put Allen on him and often shaded or doubled hard with Nurkic. Maxey is regarded as maybe the fastest player in the league. He should've been salivating over opportunities to attack that game plan, whether it was isolating against Allen or finding the edge against the extra attention to set the four-on-three advantage into motion.

Instead, he took just 13 shots in the game - only four triples - and was more concerned with appealing to the officials after missing layups than he was with recovering on defense. The assist volume doesn't absolve him from criticism in my mind. This game called for him to be a shot-taker, and Maxey was way closer to autopilot than to aggressor.

- The Sixers technically suited up and took the floor, but were they really present for this game? Swing passes at shooters' feet instead of somewhere closer to the shooting pocket burned up their possession quality quite often. Double-digit misses from the free throw line. The Suns had three-times as many turnovers as the Sixers did, and they still held court for the overwhelming majority of this game.

- In the time it took me to write this sentence, Allen probably hit another three against a lagging Sixers rotation and Nurkic probably smacked a red jersey in the face jockeying for position at the basket.

The Sixers (38-31) will visit the Los Angeles Lakers (37-32) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 10:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on NBA TV.

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Gallery Credit: Josh Hennig/Townsquare Media

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